Finland's Covid vaccination rate soon to hit 80% of over-12s, but that won't end the epidemic

Vaccine centres have seen slower uptake in recent months. Image: Ville Välimäki / Yle

Ministers had set a target of four in five over-12s to be vaccinated to end restrictions.

Finland could reach its stated target of 80 percent vaccination coverage among the over-12s on Friday, but health officials say that won't be enough to end the pandemic.

Earlier this year the government set a target of 80 percent vaccination coverage to end Covid restrictions. The majority of restrictions, however, were removed before vaccination coverage reached that level.

Health authorities criticised the decision, but the government justified the move by saying it was necessary to open up society because people were no longer willing to abide by Covid restrictions.

Soon after, case counts and the number of patients in hospital began to rise. Restrictions on bars, nightclubs and restaurants remained in place in the worst-affected areas until mid-November at least.

Still plenty of unvaccinated people

There are still some 693,000 unvaccinated people aged twelve or above. Including those aged 11 or under, vaccination coverage is around 70 percent.

Finland has not made any decisions about vaccinating the under-12s, with the working group tasked with considering the issue set to report at the end of November. Even if they decide to vaccinate younger children, there could be delays before immunisation is rolled out.

"If we decide to vaccinate 5-12-year-olds then the vaccine is different to those already used for over-12s," said THL vaccine expert Mia Kontio at the regular Covid briefing on Thursday.

"As the vaccine does not have a license in Europe for younger children, Pfizer-BioNTech has not yet estimated what delivery times for the vaccine might be. We may be able to get them this year, but that is not yet certain."

The 80 percent target was imposed in the belief that vaccination rates could reduce the number of infections.

Vaccinations have reduced the number of serious Covid cases and infections this autumn, but the number of infections has over the last few weeks been between 4,000 and 4,600 per week.

Covid patients in hospitals still require treatment for long periods, even though the burden has been reduced through vaccination. As long as the virus is present in the population, new infections are possible.

Even vaccinations don't offer 100 percent protection against Covid, with one percent of those vaccinated in Finland suffering a so-called 'breakthrough infection'.

Target re-evaluation?

THL Chief Physician Otto Helve said on Thursday that Finland should aim to have as large a percentage of the population vaccinated as possible.

According to Helve, having 80 percent of the population vaccinated changes nothing — the virus remains in circulation and patients are still in hospital, and the situation won't change in the coming weeks.

"This situation won't change at all tomorrow, it won't change in the coming days or weeks," said Halve. "That's why we are targeting vaccine coverage above 80 percent, as high as possible."

There are also large differences in vaccination coverage between municipalities and regions. This week the 80 percent threshold has been reached in several hospital districts.

Eastern Finland has seen greater coverage than western Finland, which THL officials say is problematic and offers a 'refuge' for the virus.